1. What are your views on the success of including special education students in the classrooms in your school?
2. What is your philosophy regarding inclusion? Perhaps you could comment on any benefits/challenges?
3. Do you have any advice/words of wisdom to a future regular education teacher (like me!) regarding inclusive practices?
Well, Spot, I'm sitting here looking at you and all of your friends, sitting here staring at me. You're waiting, each one of you having a different point of view, and a different learning need. There's the doggie sitting there with the large pointy ears. He listens well, but boy, he can't sit still! Then there's the sleepy guy, slumping and looking pretty lost. That guy's got all kinds of organizational issues, and because of that, his anxiety often flares up. There are big, tall smarty pants dogs, who know an awful lot, but can't really figure out how to get along with the other dogs. Then there are the dogs that get really hung up on routines, who fall apart when things get changed. One of those doggies can't hear very well and another needs his planner checked and the sequence of assignments arranged for him.
If you're following me, Spot, I'm sure you know where I'm going here. You, my friend, are dismissed. I know your homework's done.
Special needs are my specialty, I believe every student is an individual. I've grown up in the era of inclusion. When I student taught, though, I didn't see too many students with IEPs. As time passed and the laws changed, more and more the line became blurred...between the so-called regular education and the special education student. When I graduated from college, there were no jobs in a traditional regular education classroom. I went to work for one of the five area cooperatives in our state, teaching special needs students. From there, I decided to get my master's degree in special education. After seven years of teaching hearing impaired kids, birth to three and then running a program for language delayed students, I took five years off and stayed home with my own. In all of this...especially in my venture in motherhood, I found that no two students, not even my own little guinea pigs at home, learned in the same way. This was never a problem. It only made me strengthen my craft.
When I returned to the classroom, I had an opportunity to return to regular education. I've taught kindergarten, then second and now sixth grade and have loved all the varied faces and learning styles, the growth I've seen in education over the years. A few years ago, I was asked to include a student whose reading needs were far below those of others in my group. I know in my heart that saying no is not an option for me. On paper, this student's scores were abysmal, but I knew she was much more capable than she showed. At first, she listened, and kids in my class clearly were not too keen on her. It didn't take too long before she started moving closer to the group and sharing, but oftentimes, what she shared was a little off topic in class. She did stand out...like that cat in the large group of dogs.
Kids were watching me, though, and I knew they'd follow my lead. After the group, I'd spend a little time with her...encouraging her and letting her know she was doing a great job. Her mom started doubling up on the readings we did in class, giving her an opportunity to reread and then understand the material a little better. She had a chance to preview class conversation questions prior to class discussions, so she could rehearse a response in her mind. Kids started experiencing the miracle of inclusion...watching one young girl make a giant leap right in front of their eyes. The challenge is great...time intensive in front of and behind the scenes.
Other times, I've had kids that were included right from the start...students with a wide array of needs. But to me? They all have needs. The kids in my class will always look to me. If they can trust that I can handle all their differences, then everyone settles in and allows the learning to fall into place. I do believe it all comes down to the teacher and how he/she allows everyone a seat at that wonderful table of learning. But I have to make sure that no one stands out too much. To the best of my ability, I treat them respect, as equals, no matter what their disability.
So Spot? I know you were staring at that kitty in the class picture up there. I'd tell all teachers old or new, to give every student their space...to study them and get to know to know them well, prepare for everyone's needs each day...and then sit back and wait. The change comes, the learning happens, and miracles always occur! Inclusion broadens all our horizons. By including all, we learn and teach each other that very simple lesson...that we're all a part of the same breed!